Humans have, in fewer than eight months, already used up one year’s worth of the planet’s resources. This is based on an analysis of the demand that the human population is putting on the Earth, through various actions such as pumping carbon into the atmosphere and scouring the sea of fish, and the rate at which the planet can replenish these resources.
In what’s come to be known as “Earth overshoot day,” we’ve reached the point at which everything else we do this year will be unsustainable six days earlier than we did last year. As it stands, we are on target to consume the equivalent of 1.6 planets over the course of the year. For most of human history we’ve managed to live within the planet’s limits, but since around 1970 we moved into the red. Back then, humanity reached overshoot day in the last few days of December, but ever since we’ve been hitting it earlier and earlier.
“Humanity’s carbon footprint alone more than doubled since the early 1970s, when the world went into ecological overshoot. It remains the fastest growing component of the widening gap between the ecological footprint and the planet’s biocapacity,” explains Mathis Wackernagel, president of Global Footprint Network, who calculates Earth overshoot day each year. “The global agreement to phase out fossil fuels that is being discussed around the world ahead of the Climate Summit in Paris would significantly help curb the ecological footprint’s consistent growth and eventually shrink the footprint.”
Currently we’re consuming the equivalent resources of 1.6 Earths. If we don’t act now, by 2030, we’ll be using the equivalent of 2. Global Footprint Network.
Overshoot day is an important step in the lead-up to the climate agreement expected later this year at the United Nations climate summit in Paris. If we’re to keep the planet from warming more than 2°C since pre-industrial temperatures, it will require a shared goal of completely phasing out all fossil fuels by 2070. And if we want to push overshoot day back again, then nations need to commit to a 30% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030.
“We are encouraged by the recent developments on the front line of renewable energy, which have been accelerating worldwide, and by the increasing awareness of the finance industry that a low-carbon economy is the way of the future,” says Wackernagel. “Going forward, we cannot stress enough the vital importance of reducing the carbon footprint, as nations are slated to commit to in Paris.”
If we keep on with business as usual, we’ll likely be hitting overshoot day by June 28 by 2030, not to mention the humanity crisis that will occur as food production will fail to keep up with demand. We’ve already had a taste of this, when wheat shortages in 2007 and 2008 triggered riots in Egypt and other Middle Eastern nations.
“It is not just good for the world, but increasingly becoming an economic necessity for each nation,” concludes Wackernagel, referring to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. “We all know that the climate depends on it, but that is not the full story: Sustainability requires that everyone live well, within the means of one planet. This can only be achieved by keeping our Ecological Footprint within our planet’s resource budget.”